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10 Takeaways From The Fiscal Fight

With the shutdown-debt ceiling fight over, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared to strengthen his hand within the House GOP caucus but weaken it outside that group.
Evan Vucci
With the shutdown-debt ceiling fight over, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared to strengthen his hand within the House GOP caucus but weaken it outside that group.

With the double crises of a partial government shutdown and a potential debt default resolved, it's a good time to consider some of the lessons we learned from the dysfunction and drama of recent weeks.

Here are 10 of them:

Shutting Down The Government Is Not A Winning Political Strategy

Once again, the GOP brand was hurt because of a failure to learn from past mistakes. Republicans were warned before this shutdown that it could seriously hurt the party's approval ratings, as it did during the last shutdown showdown, in 1996. Many Republicans convinced themselves that this time was different. It wasn't. Most Americans like government more than they let on.

Obama Wasn't Bluffing

This time the president meant it when he said he wasn't going to let Republicans use government shutdowns or potential debt defaults to pressure him into making policy changes. Obama had actually signaled his shift long before the current fight. But his message either wasn't heard clearly by enough of the right people or they expected him to blink first.

The House GOP Is Ungovernable

The wheels have truly come off the House Republican Conference. The GOP-controlled House was already one of the least productive in recent history largely because of Speaker John Boehner's difficulty in getting a majority of votes on controversial legislation from his fractured group. The two-week shutdown just furthers the perception of a caucus in disarray and raises real questions about how the House will be able to move major legislation like an immigration overhaul or budget bills.

Boehner's Speakership Rises And Falls

A corollary to House Republicans being adrift is the state of Boehner's speakership. It's a tale of two Boehners, actually. Inside his conference, Boehner strengthened his hand by allowing the Tea Party faction to drive the House GOP strategy. Those Tea Party members have praised Boehner for his handling of the shutdown-debt ceiling fight, making a challenge to his speakership unlikely. But Boehner's hand is weaker outside his conference, compared with Obama and Reid, which could have real consequences in negotiations with Democrats. And with voter approval of congressional Republicans bumping the bottom, it will be hard for him to argue that Republican positions widely reflect Americans' wishes.

The Hastert Rule Really Isn't One

It took the current crisis for Republican Dennis Hastert, the former House speaker, to say it was just common sense, not an actual rule. As speaker, you want to make sure a majority of your party supports legislation before you bring it to the House floor. But if it takes votes from the other party to pass important bills, so be it. Boehner and Hastert don't talk, so Hastert couldn't apparently tell Boehner this directly.

The Senate Emerges Enhanced

Well, at least in contrast to a weaker House. By once again arriving at a deal to avert financial disaster after an abysmal House failure, as it has done several times now, the Senate is clearly the more functional of the two chambers. Of course, that's a relative term.

Sen. Mitch McConnell Isn't Panicking

Cutting a deal to end the impasse with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Maybe the Kentucky senator and minority leader isn't as frightened by his Tea Party-backed primary challenger, Matt Bevin, as people think. McConnell's last minute efforts toward compromise suggest McConnell could be looking past Bevin and toward the general election contest with Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Kentucky secretary of state who's raising lots of money and polling competitively against him.

Sen. Ted Cruz Is Running For President In 2016

The Texas senator would be a strong contender for the Tea Party presidential nomination if there were one. But as the leading proponent of the strategy of shutting down the government in an effort to gut the Affordable Care Act, he's reduced his general election appeal. Indeed, the Houston Chronicle, which endorsed him for Senate, now has buyer's remorse.

The Hard-Liners May Have Gone Too Far

Even some conservative Republicans have had just about enough of the hard-line Tea Party members. And they're speaking out. Consider Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., who told the National Journal that Tea Party lawmakers' "allegiance is not to the members in the conference. Their allegiance is not to the leadership team and to conservative values. Their allegiance is to these outside Washington DC interest groups that raise money and go after conservative Republicans."

How To Blow A Golden Political Opportunity

The irony of the fiscal fight is that the story of the terribly botched Affordable Care Act rollout has been buried by the shutdown and debt ceiling news. The lesson? If you want to lift the curtain on a monumentally glitchy major project like the enrollment process for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, you'd be wise to wait until the nation is wildly distracted by a government shutdown and potential debt default.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.